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Lifestyle Family Fitness members left without answers as LA Fitness takes over

One of the nation's largest fitness chains is about to gobble up one of Tampa Bay's most popular gyms: LA Fitness has reached a deal to acquire St. Petersburg-based Lifestyle Family Fitness.

The terms of the deal for the 33 Lifestyles locations in Florida were not disclosed, according to Club Industry, the trade publication that first reported the deal on Monday.

"The transaction is subject to various closing conditions," LA Fitness said in a statement to the magazine. "While the parties are hopeful that the transaction will be completed within the next several weeks, there can be no assurance as to when or whether a closing will occur."

Neither officials from LA Fitness nor Lifestyle returned repeated calls for comment from the Tampa Bay Times. Nor did the companies make any announcements on their respective websites or through social media.

That left Lifestyle's employees and patrons in Tampa Bay with plenty of questions and no answers: What will happen to their jobs, their memberships, their gyms?

"My wife is not happy," said retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Potridge, 46, who hoped to find an open treadmill late Monday. He and his wife work out at the St. Petersburg Lifestyle at 5900 Fourth St. N.

"Her main reason for coming is the classes," Potridge said. "She's heard that LA Fitness doesn't have the same ones."

Indeed, Stuart Goldman, an industry analyst and managing editor of Club Industry, said that the two fitness chains are dissimilar: Lifestyle is known for bigger facilities that hold more fitness classes; LA Fitness is known for having smaller buildings with fewer offerings.

There's also bound to be confusion ahead for Lifestyle members. That's what happened to Bally Total Fitness members when LA Fitness acquired the chain last year. Bally members even filed suit in federal court claiming that LA Fitness would not honor their lifetime memberships.

"You have a lot of members wondering, 'Am I being transferred to the nearest LA Fitness? How are my rates going to change?' " Goldman said. "It's going to be a long process. I can see where a lot of members won't be happy."

The move is the latest in LA Fitness' efforts to grow its Florida market. Last year, the chain acquired 171 Bally clubs in 16 states for $153 million, according to the Los Angeles Times, paying about $900,000 for each club.

In 2010, Club Industry ranked LA Fitness the No. 2 fitness chain in the country, based on estimated revenue of $1 billion that year. Bally was fifth on that list with $550 million in revenue and Lifestyle was 10th with $102 million. The nation's No. 1 gym, 24 Hour Fitness, made $1.3 billion.

The very first Lifestyle opened in Lakeland in 1982 and there are now locations across the Tampa Bay area. But the completion of the deal would wipe out the Lifestyle name at popular clubs in Tampa's Hyde Park and Carrollwood.

"There's an entire brand that's on the verge of extinction," Goldman said. "This time next year they likely won't be on the list at all."

The larger fitness chains have emerged from the recession poised to absorb the smaller chains, Goldman said. LA Fitness has concentrated on growing in Florida, but not just by acquiring established gyms. It's also building its own facilities, like the massive new gym and parking garage under construction at 301 S Dale Mabry Highway.

"They've really made a concerted effort to grow in the state of Florida," Goldman said. "They're able to negotiate good deals with landlords and they have the (money) to grow."

Money is also a concern to Lifestyle members.

"The only thing that matters to me is if they raise the price," said St. Petersburg member Keith Norstein, "But when one thing buys another, that usually happens. Very rarely do things stay the same."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.

Lifestyle Family Fitness members left without answers as LA Fitness takes over 06/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 8:46am]
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